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Originally published December 30, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 31, 2007 at 11:33 AM

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Parking a problem at train station

Monday morning. 7:10 a.m. Six minutes until the next train. From his popular Auburn restaurant, Sun Break Café, Bruce Alverson watches...

Times Southeast Bureau

Monday morning. 7:10 a.m. Six minutes until the next train.

From his popular Auburn restaurant, Sun Break Café, Bruce Alverson watches what he calls the commuter marathon.

In this race, the competitors are the panicked drivers who flock to this section of downtown, running red lights and parking wherever their cars will fit.

"They rush down here, park and run to the train," Alverson said.

Area transit officials call it the "hide-and-ride" phenomenon: Sounder commuters ditch their cars in neighborhoods or downtown parking spaces before scrambling to the Auburn Transit Center, downtown on A Street Southwest, to catch a ride into Seattle.

"It's wonderful we have so many customers, but it creates a whole new wrinkle," Sound Transit spokeswoman Linda Robson said.

In Southeast King County, the "wrinkle" is this: As the number of residents who take the train to work has increased, so has the demand for parking near stations. Downtown Auburn and Kent have been hard hit, but so have stations in Sumner, Puyallup and Tacoma, Sound Transit officials say.

At the Auburn station, 500 spaces are available for commuters. During a fall 2007 Metro survey, King County found that nearly all of the spaces were being used by commuters."It's a disaster," said Carolyn Robertson, Auburn's governmental liaison.

More than 1,500 riders board the Sounder in Southeast King County, but relatively few commuters take the bus or van pools to get to the train.

Riders and officials had hoped Sound Transit would build a second parking garage at the site of the C Street Southwest parking lot on the west side of the train tracks, but those hopes were dashed Nov. 6, when voters defeated Proposition 1, a roads-and-transit package that included money for Sound Transit.

In Auburn, early arrivers for the 5:26 a.m., 6:11 a.m. and 6:46 a.m. trains usually find parking in the garage or in surface lots, but commuters who catch the 7:16 or 7:46 a.m. trains often must rely on creativity to find a spot. Commuters have been known to park on private driveways and property, in business alleys, anywhere that is low risk enough that they won't get towed, Robertson said.

To solve the problem, Auburn has proposed a new shuttle system that would slash the number of cars coming from one of its largest neighborhoods, Lakeland Hills.

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During a recent license-plate survey of Sound Transit lots, officials learned that a large number of drivers at Auburn Station were coming from the mostly upper-middle-class planned community that straddles the King-Pierce county line.

Transportation officials with King County Metro and Pierce Transit are considering a partnership with the city of Auburn that would create morning and evening bus service to and from the train station for Lakeland Hills residents.

For a small fee, the shuttle would pickup commuters from a central location in Lakeland Hills and bring them directly to the Sounder station in the morning, Robertson said. The shuttle will also have reverse evening routes that would take riders home.

"From a planning perspective, this could free up a lot of parking spaces because of the concentration of drivers coming from that neighborhood," said Jack Latteman, senior planner for short-range services at King County Metro.

Business owners say they would support any expansion of bus service.

"We need a better rapid-transit system," Sun Break Café owner Alverson said.

In the meantime, Alverson says parking tickets are the best defense against "hide-and-ride" drivers.

Parking tickets generally run $30, but can run as high as $75 for parking in a fire lane or $250 for parking in a spot designated for the disabled.

If a person is ticketed once a week for $30, it would still cost less to park in downtown Auburn (essentially $6 a day) than in downtown Seattle, where parking can cost as much as $25 a day.

"It's not a bad deal," Alverson said.

Karen Johnson: 253-234-8605 or karenjohnson@seattletimes.com

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